Will walnuts follow the trend of other nuts into the milk category? “I have not heard that a walnut milk will be coming to the U.S. domestic market however; walnut milk is a popular item in South Korea, one of our export markets,” continues McNeil. She does point out recent walnutty retail products including Cranberry, Walnut & Gorgonzola salad dressing from Trader Joe’s and Caramel Nut Cereal from Post. “A personal favorite is the Butternut Squash Ravioli from Lean Cuisine with a walnut cream sauce,” she adds.
Alpha-linolenic acid is the form of omega-3s found in the increasingly popular organic roasted flax seeds, another trendy member of the nut and seed category, and a favorite for all vegetarian applications. Flax seeds are also rich in lignans, plant chemicals known as phytoestrogens, which are similar to soybean isoflavones and may act as potent antioxidants.
Omega-3s can be found in other trendy places. Decas found them in the seeds of cranberries. OmegaCran oil is expeller process cold-pressed from the seeds of the cranberry via a proprietary method that uses no solvents or chemicals. It is rich in tocotrienols (vitamin E), the omega-6 and omega-9 families of fatty acids and has no fishy taste.
The almond trend continues to boom with each new bit of research. In fact, 2006 saw a 13 percent jump in new products featuring almonds. Even though almonds aren’t antioxidant stars, their use can help to reduce the oxidative stress created by processed foods.
“In baking, for example, culinary experts and research indicate almonds’ good fats can act as a replacement for other fats [generally trans fat-rich partially hydrogenated oils] and even reduce the addition of carbohydrates,” says Harbinder Maan, manager of foodservice and industrial marketing for the Almond Board of California (www.almondboard.com), Modesto, Calif. “Almonds’ meatiness is a great binding agent in baking and cooking, and they decrease the specific gravity in batter.”
Trends are fickle, and trying to predict what will catch the consumer’s eye can be a tricky and expensive business. But certain basics do apply when attempting to understand the increasingly health-conscious consumer. Maybe they could be summed up by the expression “form follows function.” First make sure the food provides value; increasingly that means well-researched benefits. Then you can be as creative as you want.
Note to Marketing
There are two great opportunities here. First, consumers currently are showing a great interest in heirloom fruits and vegetables or any food product for which you can identify the source location. A Ruby Gold potato or Black Krim tomato has cachet.
Second, a health claim is a powerful statement on any food product label. Of the 12 FDA-accepted health claims meeting “significant scientific agreement,” seven are related to fruits, nuts and vegetables:
* Fiber-containing grain products, fruits, and vegetables and cancer.
* Fruits, vegetables, and grain products that contain fiber, particularly soluble fiber, and risk of coronary heart disease.
* Fruits and vegetables and cancer.
* Folate and neural tube defects.
* Soluble fiber from certain foods and risk of coronary heart disease.
* Soy protein and risk of coronary heart disease.
* Plant sterol/stanol esters and risk of coronary heart disease.